Delegates at racism conference debate compromise language over Middle East and slavery |

Delegates at racism conference debate compromise language over Middle East and slavery


DURBAN, South Africa (AP) – Arab states at a U.N. racism conference rejected a second attempt at compromise Thursday on wording on the Middle East conflict. However, South African officials said they were shuttling between the Arab and European delegates, trying to work out a new compromise.

Efforts to reach agreement over another contentious issue, a proposed Western apology for slavery and colonialism, remained bogged down a day before the eight-day conference was scheduled to end.

The proposed Mideast compromise, the second South African proposal rejected by the Arab states, sought to bridge the gap between the Arabs’ call for the conference to condemn Israeli practices as racist and the European Union’s refusal to allow the conference to take sides in the conflict.

”This text is completely unacceptable,” Palestinian Ambassador Salman el-Herfi said.

The rejected proposal recognized the Holocaust and condemned anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. A copy of the text, obtained by The Associated Press, also expressed concern ”about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation” but did not specifically criticize Israel or mention Zionism.

The EU had accepted the proposal, said Koen Vervaeke, spokesman for Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, who is leading the EU delegation.

”We are not fully happy but … we consider it as a minimum response to our concerns,” he said.

Disagreement over the Mideast and the legacy of slavery and colonialism threatened to derail the conference’s intended goal of creating a global agreement on how to fight racism.

If negotiations over the two issues continued past the scheduled closing of the conference Friday night, the conference could be extended into Saturday and beyond to allow the talks to continue, said Sue Markham, spokeswoman for the conference.

Without a new, acceptable proposal on the Mideast conflict, the Arab states would bring the original wording of the document, which criticized Israel’s ”racist practices,” back to the whole conference for debate, ”even if it takes one or two months,” el-Herfi said.

”The European group is inflexible, and they have exaggerated their position and they are covering up crimes by the Israelis against the Palestinian people. They are covering up a new holocaust against Palestinians,” el-Herfi said. He also referred in anger to an Israeli helicopter attack on Palestinian militants that killed two people.

The United States and Israel walked out of the conference Monday after the Arab states rejected a compromise proposed by Norway.

Ronnie Mamoepa, spokesman for South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said South African officials were talking to European and Arab groups separately to try to work out a compromise.

In the slavery reparations talks, negotiators were working off a consolidated draft text Thursday, but no substantive progress had been made, said Marcus Gama, a spokesman for the Brazilian delegation mediating the reparations talks.

”The contested issues are still there,” he said.

The Africans proposed that the trans-Atlantic slave trade be declared a crime against humanity and that Western countries make an explicit apology and pay reparations.

The EU delegation proposed that only contemporary slavery be declared a crime, that the conference express regret over the legacy of the slave trade and that the international community should contribute to sustainable development.

Peter Colony, spokesman for the British delegation, said the EU did not want to link economic assistance with the past.

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